Even with the onslaught of motion controlled timelapse videos that have become a popular trend in the last few years, there is something about watching ordinary traffic, growing plants, or stary landscapes sped up and matched to music that just never gets old.
By way of wikipedia definition, Timelapse photography is a technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured (the frame rate) is much lower than that used to view the sequence. When played at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing.
Through timelapse photography, we are able to experience things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Movement that is too slow to perceive normally becomes frantically fast. Patterns emerge from random movement. It really can seem like magic. Timelapse frames can even be used for other cool things like creating Time Slices Images.
So you want to shoot your own timelapse? Great! All you really need is a camera and the ability to take a picture at an interval that you decide. Technically you can even trigger your camera manually, snapping a picture every few seconds, or even once a day depending on what you are trying to achieve. Generally though, if you are serious about capturing a quality timelapse, you will want at least two pieces of equipment: An intervalometer and a tripod.
An intervalometer is handy device that connects to your camera with a cord and allows you to set an interval at which a picture will be taken. There are models for both Nikon and Canon. Make sure to get one that lists your camera as compatible.
Many cameras have the basic features of a intervalometer built-in. With these cameras, creating a timelapse is as easy as configuring the duration between exposures and letting the camera do it’s thing. Here is a list of large sensor cameras with built-in intervalometers. I’ll try to keep this list up to date. If you see a mistake or know of a camera I’m missing, post it in the comments and I’ll update the list.
Source – List info used with permission from: Lonely Speck
|D200||1100D*||K-3||OM-D E-M10||DMC-GH4||DP2 Quattro||Ricoh GR||X-T1||a5000**|
|D300||500D*||K-5||OM-D E-M1||DMC-GH3||DP2x||Ricoh GXR A16||a7**|
|D300s||50D*||K-5 II||PEN E-P5||Fujifilm||DP2s||Ricoh GXR A12||a7R**|
|D3s||5D Mark II*||K-7|
|D3x||5D Mark III*||K-50|
*Canon EOS cameras require the Magic Lantern firmware hack to be installed to enable the built in intervalometer function.
**The Sony Alpha a5000 requires the timelapse downloadable app.
As noted with the asterix, most Canon cameras do not come with a built in intervalometer feature. Fortunately, you can install a 3rd party firmware update that adds intervalometer functionality as well as a host of other really useful features for photography and videography. If you have a Canon camera, head over to the Magic Lantern website to download the firmware and find instructions for getting it installed.
I have yet to find a tripod that I love enough to recommend to you, dear reader. If you have one that you really like, please leave me a comment. I’m still on the hunt for a sturdy tripod that is also airplane friendly and has a removable head. When shooting timelapse you want the camera to remain steady and motionless for sometimes a few hours at a time. Any solid set of sticks should get the job done.
I do have a Manfrotto MH054M0-Q5 054 Magnesium Ball Head that I love and recommend. A good tripod head is something you can take with you from tripod to tripod, so while this one costs $200.00 I see it as a long term investment that will continue to outlast each cheap travel tripod I buy.
Timelapse Camera Settings
Just like with any type of photography, your camera settings will vary depending on a variety of variables. Available light, speed of subject, and desired result will all play a part in settings you choose.
The first setting you probably will want to choose is the timelapse interval. There is no right answer. Different intervals give different results. Less time between shots will result in smoother movement, especially when shooting faster moving subjects. Here is a chart that gives a suggested interval for a variety of different subjects. The shorter the interval, the slower your subject will seem to move.
|Fast Moving Clouds||1-2 Seconds|
|Slow Moving Clouds||8-10 Seconds|
|Sun or Moon Moving Across Sky||30 Seconds|
|Stars Moving Across Sky||30-60 Seconds|
|Sunsets close up||2 Seconds|
|Fast Growing Plants||2 Minutes|
|Building Construction||1 Shot Per Day|
|Car Traffic||1-3 Seconds|
|Crowds of People||1-3 Seconds|
Your interval will also help determine how long your timelapse will have to run before to get the desired final length of your timelapse clip. Most films run at 24 fps in the United States, so in order to get a 10 second long final clip, You will need to take 240 images. If your interval between each frame is 10 seconds, you will have to wait 40 minuets for your timelapse to complete.
If you are unsure about what interval to use, it may be best to aim for shorter intervals. You can always remove every other frame before you compile your timelapse if you find the interval is too short.
As a general rule of thumb, your timelapse movie will look more fluid and smooth if you “drag the shutter.” Dragging the shutter simply means that you use as slow of a shutter speed as possible for the scene you are shooting. Because we are stringing many frames together, a little bit of motion blur in each frame helps smooth out the motion. If you experiment with different shutter speeds, you’ll see that faster shutter speeds create a more choppy look while slower shutter speeds allow each frame to blend together in a less abrupt manner.
What if the scene is too bright to allow for a slow shutter speed? You may want to use ND filters to reduce the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor and thus allowing you to have a slower shutter speed.
Motion controlled timelapse is becoming more common. This is where the camera itself moves during the duration of the timelapse. This is done by utilizing a microcomputer controlled motorized slider or pan/tilt head that moves the camera a small amount between each shot. This movement creates a more dynamic feel to the timelapse.
Here’s a video showing off a couple of sliders from Dynamic Perception:
And here’s an example of a finished timelapse video using a motion control system:
I like to use Adobe Bridge to quickly set all RAW image settings in a sequence of images to the same settings. I show you how I compile and render a timelapse in this video: